Friday, December 31, 2010

Army Combat Uniform Camouflage:
Learning From the Past

Photo by US Army
As we see the U.S. Army planning out a new project for Camouflage selection it is interesting to see the different considerations taking place that mirror past processes. Of courses we hope that the ultimate choice will prove to be the "best camo" possible, however it is interesting to see that the choices up for consideration and procedures taken are ultimately not that much different from when UCP (ACUPAT) was chosen as the top choice for the Army Combat Uniform. Hopefully the final results will prove better.

We can look to the past and see in the info from TRADOC that "The Army modified the USMC pattern (MARPAT) and used alternate colors to provide an effective camouflage in multiple environments." The army certainly integrated a more urban environment color scheme which goes hand in hand with the operations taking place in Baghdad, with Operation Iraqi Freedom. We can definitely see that the color scheme has some similitarites with the Urban MARPAT color scheme which has not received usage among the U.S. Marine Corps beyond trials. What is very interesting is that the Army is going back to the drawing board and are considering variants to the Woodland and Desert MARPAT as reported by the Army Times. 

A distinct decision made when creating the ACU Camouflage used today was to eliminate black from the color scheme utilized in MARPAT. The aspect of Black being subjectively eliminated as a viable color due to it not being a natural color, is noted at TRADOC, and was analyzed by many experts in the industry, including Guy Cramer of Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp

While there may not be objects naturally appearing to be a true black in color, the human eye can perceive black when viewing a scene in a natural setting. Of course we don't have piles of coal in which we need to conceal ourselves in, however shadowing and elimination of light can create a need to incorporate black to blend into the surroundings of an area of operation. Mr. Cramer notes how depth can create the perception of black and we can certainly see this in a wooded area where close proximity of objects can shadow others, and make their color appear black from a distance. 

This debate can go on as to the viability of incorporating a true black, however actual testing of a pattern will bring forth the facts on the effectiveness of a camouflage. Fortunately, the Army did just that in 2009 and we can view the results in these transcripts. This great document was recently shown at Kitup and they pointed out how UCP failed dramatically as a camouflage for the different backgrounds selected.  However, it has to be noted that MultiCam did amazingly well compared to the other choices for most backgrounds. It is no surprise that MultiCam ACU is now being used in Afghanistan on the Army Combat Uniform, where a "Universal" camouflage is needed for a variety of environments. It also has to be noted that MultiCam does integrate black among many other colors. 

It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say UCP was a miserable choice, and many soldiers and analysts have done just that since it has been implemented over the end of the last decade. There is no shortage of complaints on military forums or comments on articles related to the ACU camouflage, or in comparison with any other camouflage for that matter. Looking further back we can see that the U.S. Army had the greatest intentions of choosing the "right camouflage" and had actual field testing to see what would work great in multiple backgrounds. The Universal Camouflage Study by Natick shows that Desert Brush as presented at the time was the favorable option in most of the landscapes chosen for the evaluation process. 

One would assume the U.S. Army took the results of this study and integrated it into their analysis for the final selection. By looking at the photo of Desert Brush to the left you may see some similarities with UCP. The differences are much more staggering when compared to the photo of UCP in a grassland at the top of the page. Perhaps it was the fact that Desert Brush failed in 1 out of the 4 backgrounds while excelling in the other three. Whatever the reasoning may be, TRADOC documents that noncommissioned officers decided on the final Universal Camouflage Pattern as used on ACU today, mainly by changing the colors of existing MARPAT digital pattern and toning down the black to grey. 

The Marines want their uniform camouflage to be unique, so one would hope that if the Army does move more towards a Woodland and Desert style, they will not have to alter it too much to take away its effectiveness as seems to be the case with UCP. The differentiation among branches may prove to be the problem. Army, Navy, Marines and Airforce are always vying for the best option possible, while still maintaining a unique separation from each other. All the while, many of their soldiers may be fighting in the same area of operation. 

The U.S Army's Phase IV field testing of multiple camouflage styles and actually selecting a different camouflage for Woodland, Desert, and Transitional seems to have the right intentions. Objective based field testing should prove effective with good camouflage placed in the trials. Lets just hope someones perceived "expertise" or flawed notions ignore the final results and subjectively choose what will be best for our troops. 


  1. It should be noted that the Multicam pattern has no black in it either, nor does the British Multi Terrain Pattern (MTP) which was derived from Multicam. None of the CADPAT colorways include black, and black is not used in AOR 1 and 2.

    All four of the backgrounds used in the 2009 camouflage assessment could definitely be considered semi-arid biased or Afghan-centric.

    Plenty of black there.
    Black there too.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Perhaps a "true black" is not present in MultiCam if we want to get in to specifics on shading. It can certainly be perceived as black on uniforms I have seen and in many terrains which is the reality of things. To simply state that a camouflage is fine but we must drop the black since it is "not found in nature" changes the dynamics completely without further testing.